Question: Which is fictional, a Redhawk (Southeast Missouri State) or Saluki (Southern Illinois)?
Answer: The Saluki, which is a breed of Egyptian dog, is not a fictional mascot. The Redhawks, which was adopted by Southeast Missouri State in 2005 after ditching the "Indians" nickname, is.
By Charles Burton, CSN Columnist
Question: Which mascot is creepier, SEMO's Rowdy the Redhawk or the unnamed human-sized Saluki twins (fraternal) of Southern Illinois?
Answer: Once again, while Rowdy the Redhawk more resembles the less flamboyant little brother of Cocky, Jacksonville State's feathery rabble-rouser, the unnamed Salukis hands down demonstrate a creepy, teethy combination that has you looking for Chewbacca behind them. They seem more "1978 Star Wars Christmas special" than ferocious mascots to lead Southern Illinois into battle. (Maybe SIU should consider changing its nicknames to "Wookies." It wouldn't need to spend any extra on new mascot costumes.)
Question: Which team belongs in the FCS top 25, Southeast Missouri State or Southern Illinois?
Answer: Most years, this answer would be easy. The Salukis, a mainstay in the FCS Top 25 for years and FCS semifinalist a few years ago, have been far away from the FCS doghouse, while the Redhawks, since becoming Redhawks in 2004, haven't enjoyed a year when they've have had more than four victories. A big win here and there, yes. Sustained, Top 25-style success, no.
Two weeks ago, few thought that Southeast Missouri State, heading to Carbondable, Ill., to face off against the Top 5-ranked Salukis in their home opener, had much of a chance. But after their shocking 24-21 triumph over Southern Illinois, they're slowly making believers out of FCS watchers nationwide.
Matter of fact, Southeast Missouri State, with its impressive 23-21 victory over OVC title contender Tennessee Tech, has equaled its best start since joining the league in 1991. With the victory over the Golden Eagles paired with the Redhawks earlier win over Murray State, SEMO stands at 2-0 in OVC play - and head coach Tony Samuel, nor any other SEMO head coach since joining the OVC, has ever enjoyed three league wins.
Playing a triple-option style attack, the secret of the Redhawks' success has been a powerful running game that has been difficult to stop. Led by the slashing running of RB Henry Harris (501 yards, 4 TDs) and the precision play of QB Matt Scheible (270 yards rushing, 529 yards passing, 2 TDs), the Redhawks are chewing up clock and gringing out wins. They average almost 250 yards rushing per game, good for 11th in all of FCS.
Behind every great running game is a great offensive line, too, and SEMO's veteran unit has earned gushing praise from Harris and Scheible, showing how the Redhawks' offense has really gelled together as an entire unit.
"I feel they're one of the hardest-working groups," Harris told Marty Mishow of the Southeast Missourian. "They've been a unit the whole season." "They're awesome," Scheible added. "As a unit, five as one, they're doing it."
The road won't be easy to give Tony Samuel something that was only a dream this August: an OVC title and the Redhawks' first trip to the FCS playoffs. Games against perennial powers Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Illinois loom, and SEMO plays a desperate 0-4 Panther team this weekend. And a season-ending game against fellow OVC leader Jacksonville State - on the road - looms as what could be the most meaningful game in school history.
But in a September that was full of surprises, the story of the Redhawks looms as one of the best in FCS to this point. (Now all they need is a better mascot.)
SEMO's victims two weeks ago, the Wookies of Southern Illinois, are not, by any stretch, out of the Missouri Valley Conference title race yet. But at 1-3, with its only victory against NAIA Quincy by a 70-7 score but losing three straight games for the first time since 2002, it would just as soon forget September.
"You can't make the mistakes that we made tonight and expect to win," head coach Dale Lennon said after a 31-28 loss to Youngstown State, its first league loss in 12 games. "That's what is discouraging, and I think that we are better than what we showed. We have to play smarter football and be able to execute at a higher level on a more consistent basis."
Last Saturday, the Salukis lost thanks to four turnovers, 31 unanswered points and a last-gasp comeback effort fall short. Southern Illinois would make one onsides kick and QB Chris Dieker would connect with WR Joe Alleria for a touchdown that would close the gap to three, but the second onsides kick fluttered out of bounds and the Penguins were able to hold on.
“This football team expected to win,” Youngstown state head coach Eric Wolford said after the game. “It wasn’t any fake hope, none of this baloney of laying in bed [saying], ‘Oh, I hope we can win.’ ”
As it stands now, three teams that were favored to be in the running for the Missouri Valley Conference title - Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa and South Dakota State - have a humbling 2-8 combined record, of which one victory was against NAIA Quincy. The Panthers' only win, however, was against nationally ranked North Dakota State, giving UNI a 1-0 record so far in the Missouri Valley.
It looks like the MVC is going to be a dogfight to the finish, with Youngstown State, Illinois State and Western Illinois suprisingly sitting atop the conference alongsides UNI. If Southern Illinois or South Dakota State can get their teams turned around, it looks to be a fascinating year to see who survives the "Norris Division" of FCS, where teams beat one another up week to week.
* In a year where there are surprising FCS story lines galore, you have to add the stunning reverse from Prairie View A&M out of the SWAC to that list as well.
Picked to repeat as SWAC champions in August, QB K.J. Black was seen as a serious Walter Payton candidate, and along with RB Donald Babers looked poised to bowl over their SWAC competition to coast into the championship game again this year.
But the Panthers, after a 16-14 squeaker against Texas Southerm in Week One, dropped their next three games to go 1-3 on the month - and, importantly, 1-2 in SWAC play.
A big part of the reason for their struggles is that Black is not the same player he was in 2009. Knee surgery has removed a key component of the Panthers' game - his running - and Prairie View has struggled as Black has struggled.
In their 34-17 loss to Grambling last weekend, though, Black's and Baber's inability to run was underscored as the Tigers unleashed a rushing weapon of their own: "Sweet Feet."
RB Frank Warren, 5-9, 200, known as "Sweet Feet Frank" by Grambling head coach Rod Broadway, has run for 488 yards and four TDs this year, including 151 yards last week in its crucial SWAC West matchup at the State Fair Classic.
Importantly, his bread and butter running might allow the Tigers to open up the rest of their offense, too.
"With Frank being the way he is, we've got to run it," Broadway said. "With him running the ball like that, hopefully we can start hitting some more plays downfield. We took some shots Saturday — hit a couple, missed a couple, had an interference call. But that's the way we've got to play."
With a 2-0 record in SWAC West - and every other team in that half of the conference already sporting one conference loss - Broadway will probably be hoping his "Sweet Feet" and his entire running game become a "Singular Sensation" in SWAC West by the middle of October.
* “We’ve had six statement games in the past, and they’re all hanging from the flag post out there.” - Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken, on whether the Eagles 38-21 triumph over nationally ranked Elon was a "statement game."
* "One of the problems in this game, you can't make a mistake. Your margin is basically nil. We made some big mistakes that cost not only field position but points." - Penn head coach Al Bagnoli, who came oh-so-close to pulling off a huge upset of No. 1 Villanova, but a late intereception return for touchdown instead game the Wildcats a 22-10 victory
* “We just prepared really well and knew we were going to take it to them.” - DE Mario Kurn, on his San Diego Toreros' 24-0 shutout of last year's Pioneer Football League champions, Butler.
It was not a September to remember for my picks. To close out the month, I went a miserable 14-9, for an awful 56%. That puts me at 85-39, or an unimpressive 68% on the year so far.
Highlights include: picking the Penn/Villanova contest to be a game well into the 4th quarter (it was, with me picking Villanova to outlast the quakers), correctly picking a Youngstown State upset over Southern Illinois, and using a "home operer gimmick" rule to nab another win in the form of Brown upsetting Harvard.
Lowlights include: picking Liberty to upset James Madison (they didn't), picking a McNeese team to handle a game Cal Poly team at home (not meant to be), and Central Arkansas being up to the challenge to beat Tulsa (FBS) on the road (they weren't). Saying that Albany head coach Bob Ford had an unfair advantage with a bye week into their game against Duquesne, though - that took the cake, as the Duquense Dukes handled the Great Danes handily 28-17.
Here are my picks for Week 5.
North Dakota 31, South Dakota 21 - Dakota Days point northward.
Brown 32, Rhode Island 30 - The 95th meeting in the "Governor's Cup" promises to be one of the best in a while, with two red hot teams with victories over historic rivals. Difference is, the Bears didn't need to rely on a fumble return for touchdown to win their game.
Penn 20, Dartmouth 0 - Undefeated Dartmouth gets a reality check against a hopped-up Quakers team that came oh-so-close to knocking out the No. 1 team in the country.
Colgate 35, Georgetown 13 - Continuing the theme, 3-1 Georgetown also gets humbled by Colgate, who is none too happy after a brutal stretch against nationally-ranked Furman and FBS Syracuse.
Robert Morris 38, St. Francis (PA) 9 - Joe Walton's Colonials are behind the Red Flash in terms of turnover margin. After this week it won't be the case.
Jacksonville 45, San Diego 13. The Toreros need to get to QB Josh McGregor an awful lot if they hope to win this game. They won't get there nearly enough.
Grambling State vs. Alabama A&M - The quintessential unstoppable force (Grambling RB Frank Warren) vs. the immovable object (the Bulldogs' top-rated rushing defense). They'll keep Sweet Feet in retreat, as QB Deaunte Mason instead reigns supreme.
Picking the Sports Network Top 25
No. 1 Villanova at No. 7 William & Mary. Will Superman - sorry, WR Matt Szczur - play this weekend? Probably not, if the message boards are to be believed. Will that be the difference for a win for CB B.W. Webb and the Tribe? Not really - William & Mary fans will quickly realize that their laundry list of injuries will more than be tougher to overcome than the one to Superman. RB Angelo Babbaro - and the Wildcats - roll.
Babbling Wildcats 23, Wobbling Tribe 6
No. 5 Delaware at No. 3 James Madison. Aside from being your typical Top 10, K.C. Keeler vs. Mickey Matthews, possible national champions later-in-the-year sort of matchup - in other words, just another weekend in the CAA - this game should be a great one to watch if you like watching trench battles. The Blue Hens, with RB Andrew Pierce running behind a mammoth "O" line, or the Dukes, with RB Jamal Sullivan behind their "O" line, this one will be a dandy. Everything points to a FG game - and a beat-up team will win this game late. That's going to be the.... Dukes.
Determined Dukes 34, Hunted Hens 32
Murray State at No. 4 Jacksonville State. After four heartstopping games so far this September, Gamecock head coach Jack Crowe undoubtedly will be hoping for a breather one of these weeks. For QB Marques Ivory and Jacksonville State, they'll get one in the form of the pass-happy Racers.
Cardiac Crowes 29, Energetic Equines 9
No. 8 UMass at Towson. The Minutemen were scared in a major way last week when it took a last-minute interception by CB Tyler Holmes to seal their 26-21 victory over Stony Brook. They won't be scared very much this weekend.
Sixty Minutemen 35, Yellow Tiggers 10
No. 9 South Carolina State at Florida A&M. Buddy Pough's Bulldogs, with their first real test since their 41-10 defeat at the hands of FBS Georgia Tech, will undoubtedly get one with LB Alvis Graham and a Rattler team playing in their home opener. But in what should be a big day rushing from South Carolina State running backs Chris Massey and Asheton Jordan, they should do enough - just - to beat the Rattlers.
Chris & Asheton Express 27, Ashy Alvises 24
No. 10 Montana State at Sacramento State. The Bobcats, behind a powerful offense led by QB Denarius McGhee, is for real. So are the Hornets, led by RB Bryan Hilliard's running and very nearly pulling off the unthinkkable last weekend: beating the Griz at Washington-Grizzly. Sacramento State is way better - and needs a win here to be in the thick of the Big Sky title race - but I see them falling just short once again.
Denarius Denies Hornets 27, Not Over the Hilliard 24
Coastal Carolina at No. 11 Richmond. Could an upset be brewing here - behind Chanticleer QB Zach MacDowall, and their one game winning streak, against a tired Richmond defense, worn down be Delaware last weekend? Uh, no. LB Eric McBride and the Spiders will cull the Chanticleers as they vent their frustrations.
Torrid Tarantulas 36, Beach Chickens 12
No. 12 Montana at Northern Colorado. I keep wondering when Montana, and RB Chase Reynolds, will break through and look like the Griz I thought would be playing on Saturdays this fall. I'm not at all sure it will be this weekend, when RB Andre Harris and the Bears will be trying to put the Griz in the most unfamiliar of positions. I can't beleive I'm doing this, but I think... NoCo will win this one.
WHICH Bears Won? 28, Grumpy, Grumpy Griz 20
Western Illinois at No. 13 North Dakota State. Leatherneck fans have been crying, "Why aren't we in the Top 25, with RB Bryce Flowers ripping up the rug with 439 yards and 6 TDs"? They'll find out this weekend, when he'll be attempting to run into DL Coulter Boyer and a tough Bison defense in the Fargodome.
"Don't Call Me Ann" Coulter Boyers 24, Frowning Flowers 3
No. 14 New Hampshire at Maine. Normally played at the end of the regular season, the need for the CAA to rejigger their schedules after Northeastern and Hofstra brings forward their regional rivalry for the "Brice-Cowell Musket" to this weekend in the 100th meeting between the two universities. Unfortunately for the Black Bears, they come into the game with no momentum after losing a commanding lead to William & Mary, while New Hampshire QB R.J. Toman comes in brimming with confidence after a 348 yard performance against Lehigh last weekend. I don't care how many times they've played - give me the hot team.
Two-Fer-Tomans 47, Black Eyed Bears 10
No. 15 Cal Poly at Fresno State (FBS). In the middle of the five-game road trip from hell, the Mustangs, fresh off their 30-19 drubbing of McNeese State last weekend, now face the pass-happy Bulldogs of Fresno State, who want to make their farewell tour of the WAC something to remember. They will, unfortunately, at the expense of LB Marty Mohamed and the Mustangs.
Bulldogs Bring it 45, Ernest Borgnines 13
No. 16 Eastern Washington at Weber State. What to make of the weird, wacky Big Sky conference where Bobcats are king, the Wildcats lose to Sacramento State and about the only thing you can say for sure is that Hell is something resembling Eastern Washington's field? Here's what to think: Weber State, despite the heroics of QB Cameron Higgins, still can't stop Eagle RB Taiwan Jones. That will be the difference.
"Don't Call Me One China" Taiwan 28, "Don't Call be Kirk" Cameron 20
South Dakota State at No. 17 Northern Iowa. Before the season began, this game loomed as a possible "Game of the Week". Now? It's a battle between an unranked 0-3 team and a 1-2 team that has underwhelmed so far this year. DE Ben Boothby and a Panther rush defense that is the best in the nation so far, though, should get the Panthers pointed in the right direction. Northern Iowa smothers the Jacks, and starts their climb back up the rankings.
Phone Boothbys 27, Get Those Jackrabbits Out Of My Trunk 3
No. 18 Furman at Wofford. If there was an upset special this weekend, this is it. FB Tersoo Uhaa and the Paladins have played great, but their soft white underbelly has been run defense, which happens to be the forte of head coach Mike Ayers and his famous "Dinosaur Bone" flex-option offense. Look for the other FB in this game, Wofford's Eric Breitenstein, to be the big player in this game.
Dinosaur Bratwurst 35, Terse Tersoos 23
Samford at No. 21 Elon. The Phoenix - now desperate to get a win at home against the 2-2 Bulldogs, thanks to their 38-21 defeat at the hands of Georgia Southern last weekend - need to right the ship fast in order to give QB Scott Riddle a chance to get back into the SoCon title race. Trouble is, RB Chris Evans and Samford can do one thing extremely well - run the ball. If this were in Alabama, I'd take the Bulldogs, but give the Riddler the narrow win at home.
Frank Gorshins, Not Jim Carreys 31, Zero-Flag Bulldogs, Not Six-Flag Eagles 29
No. 22 Youngstown State at Missouri State. For QB Kurt Hess and the Penguins, this could be a letdown game against QB Cody Kirby and the high-powered Bear offense - or a statement game for Youngstown State, and how they're finally back and ready to contend for the Missouri Valley conference title this year. In most years, I'd be skeptical. But this 3-1 Penguin team - who also hung in against FBS Penn State before folding - looks different.
Burgess Merediths 42, Wee Kirbys 35
No. 24 Southern Illinois at No. 23 Illinois State. The Salukis haven't been able to do much right yet this year - but could they right the ship against QB Matt Brown and the 3-1 Redbirds? It makes little sense, but I just have this funny feeling that an incredibly desperate Southern Illinois team - and rejuvenated RB Lucien Walker - finally exposes the flimsy defense of Illinois State and stays alive in the Missouri Valley Conference race.
Saluki Skywalkers 37, Run-Over Redbirds 33
Savannah State at No. 25 Liberty. Flames fans will find that the best elixir to an incredible run of hard-luck losses to a CAA powerhouse (James Madison) and a tough NEC foe (Robert Morris) is having the Tigers come to your place.
Rejuvenated Falwells 70, Everyone's Favorite Homecoming Opponent 0